The two current volumes of “Vietnam to Western Airlines” are the first in a series of books compiled by Bruce Cowee, chronicling the history of the air war in Vietnam. Each volume includes the stories and photographs of more than thirty pilots who all had one thing in common; after returning from Southeast Asia and separating from the service, they were hired as pilots by Western Airlines.

Each of the pilots featured in these books is the real thing, and in an age of so many “Wannabees,” it is reassuring to know that each of them was someone who Bruce worked with or knew professionally. The stories span a 9 year period, 1964 – 1973, and cover every aspect of the Air War in Southeast Asia. These men represent only a small fraction of the Vietnam veterans hired as pilots by Western Airlines, but these books pay tribute to all of them.

Vietnam to Western Airlines Vol 2

Bruce Cowee: About Volume 2

When Vietnam to Western Airlines was released on Veterans Day 2013, there was never a plan for a second volume. However, the reception this book received within the former Western Airlines pilot group was so positive that the seed for a second volume was planted within a few months. When several of the pilots who were reluctant to put their stories in writing at the time the first book was being put together saw the published book, their reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive. They realized that perhaps it was time for them to tell their stories.The passing of two pilots who had planned to write their stories, John Theorell and Dave Boaz, and a third, Doug Hellwig, who Bruce had pursued about writing a story, put a sense of urgency to the project. Considering what was involved in the collection of the stories and photographs for this second publication, it has been completed in record time.

This book is a continuation of the oral history of the air war in Vietnam, with stories written by the men who were there and flew the missions. The fact that they ended up meeting after the war as pilots for Western Airlines is the thread that ties them together.All the uniformed services who provided combat pilots, and all the types of aircraft and missions these pilots flew, are included in this volume. The chronology of the book covers the air war from its beginning in August 1964 to its end in January 1973. Bruce’s respect and admiration for these men is obvious throughout, and it was only because they had a common bond that he was able to earn the trust required to complete this project.

Bruce Cowee

"My peer group at Western Airlines was the cream of the crop of the generation of the 1960s, top notch students, athletes, and graduates of the finest colleges and the service academies. One of the things they all had in common, and that must not be overlooked, is the fact that they were all volunteers. They volunteered to serve their country at a very difficult time in our history and then came home to an ungrateful and often hostile home front.Their lives just happened to intersect at Western Airlines, where they found kindred spirits and often friends and squadron mates they hadn’t seen since Vietnam."  ~Bruce Cowee

No greater moral crime has been committed by the critics of the Vietnam War than to depersonalize and discredit the profound personal, transforming experience of the combat veteran…Whether the American wars of this century were a waste because politicians made them so is really irrelevant. Their meaning and significance for the surviving veteran is that when faced with the most personal, intense experience of his entire life he met the test and became part of the Brotherhood of the Brave.                    ~ From the book, “The Vietnam War, Opposing Viewpoints,” by David L Bender.

Click an Image for Excerpts From

Vietnam to Western Airlines, Volume 2


By Peter Nichols

Date of Hire: 4/9/1973


During the last Western Airlines Silver Chiefs gathering in San Diego, I mentioned in passing to Bruce that my brother had been killed in Vietnam. He asked me if I would like to write a dedication for this volume as a tribute to my brother, Ward. After some thought, I agreed. Bruce had mentioned that for a number of us, writing these stories had been difficult, opening up places we had kept closed for many years. I felt that way about this dedication. I had packed away Ward’s letters and memorabilia years ago and now, to get the details right, I needed to go through them again.

Captain William Ward Nichols Jr., USA KIA Vietnam, 4 October 1965

My older brother, Captain William Ward Nichols Jr., was assigned to MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and as such was attached to the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) 3rd Battalion, 40th Regiment, 22nd Infantry Division, as an advisor, from February 1965 to his death on 4 October 1965. He was assisted by several Australian Army officers and his advice to me about Australians was:“Never try to match one beer for beer.” He was there early enough in the war that on one of the unit’s first patrols he was accompanied by a New York Times reporter. Ward later said that the reporter was accurate in what he wrote but that he only detailed what the unit did wrong and none of what they managed to do right. A sign of the media bias to come.

On 4 October 1965, one of his units became heavily engaged while setting up a defensive perimeter around the Phu Ly Bridge, 25 miles northwest of Qui Nhon, which is 225 miles north of Saigon. Ward left the relative safety of his command post to go forward and personally feel out the strength of that opposing force. He remained on the front line under heavy mortar and small arms fire until he was hit. MedEvac was not well established in those early days of the war and he died before he could be evacuated. For this action he received the Silver Star.

Ward, or Sonny as he was called by the family, was a large, strong man. He finished 1st in his class at Army Ranger School. I personally thought he was invincible and his death shocked away any illusions I had about the glory of war. I was in my 3rd week of Naval Flight School and this sharpened my focus to carry on what he had begun. He believed in his mission, thought it was the right thing to be doing, and would have been disappointed in the final outcome 10 years later. I still miss him.

Pete Nichols